Fresh Connection (est 1960)

Address746 Hampton St, Brighton VIC 3186

Phone: (03) 9592 6684

Facebook, Instagram, Website.

From a conversation with Nick, Debbie and Philip that has been edited.


(Nick) I moved from Greece to Melbourne when I was 21.

I grew up in a village on the island of Lesvos, and I’d gather ingredients to help my mum cook. From an early age, I developed a passion for food and cooking.

The Australian government sponsored Greek people and l arrived on a big boat in 1954. I got off at the pier in Port Melbourne and was transported to Bonegilla, a former military base that was converted into a migrant camp. People were shifted across the country to do different jobs.

I was sent to Tasmania to work as a labourer, building the hydroelectric dam. I was handed a shovel and told that this was my way to a fortune. I didn’t like what I was doing, and I thought, ‘I could do better than this.’

I left after a few weeks and made my way to Lonsdale St in Melbourne, a place that was full of Greek migrants. Friends took me to where they lived and helped me settle in. After a short time, I got married.

(Debbie) It’s the old story, my parents came with nothing and were grateful for the life they found in Australia

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Photo of Nick by Tatiana C C Scott
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Photo by Tatiana C C Scott

My first full time job in Melbourne was for Astor, a radio corporation in Sturt St, South Melbourne.

 I worked there for 3-4 years and met my future wife, Nina, at the job.

Nina’s family were fruiterers, so I left the Astor and started working at her uncle’s store as an apprentice.

After a while, I decided that it was silly to work for somebody else. I asked an agent to show me a fruit shop in Bentleigh but – as we were coming down the Nepean Highway – the agent said, “lets turn into Hampton St.”

I was shown an established fruit shop, I bought it straight away and l moved in with Nina and our first born son Philip soon after.

(Debbie) Nina and Philip were a huge part of the fabric of our business and our life and – even though they have been gone for a long time – they are still with us in so many ways.

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Hampton St was very different when we started the business.

It was full of paddocks, sheds and a horse and cart that would sell fruit and vegetables up and down the street.

We used to sell newspapers and comic magazines and the shop was lined with Tarax soft drinks on the shelves. I remember customers – who are in their 60’s now – waiting outside the shop for the new comic book arrivals.

After a while, the landlord decided that he didn’t want to renew the lease for our shop. He wanted to take over the business. I was infuriated, so I bought the land across the road and put up a sign that said, “new fruit shop.”

The landlord became scared – he didn’t know how to run a fruit shop anyway –  so he let us stay on.

That land is now a milk-bar and a fish shop.

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Photo by Tatiana C C Scott

We sell high-quality fruit and vegetables

The best.

But the diversity of produce has changed a lot over the years.

We weren’t eating pomegranates in the 1960s, and we weren’t allowed to buy anything from Queensland. Now, we can get pineapples, avocados and things like that all year round.

And the amount of cauliflowers, peas and beans that we used to sell was unbelievable but, since the supermarkets started selling pre-packaged stuff, we sell less of that. When we started, everyone bought fruit and vegetables from their green-grocer, but that has changed.

The fruiterers also helped each other. If dad was sick, another would go to the market and buy produce for him.

Even now at the market it is like a society.

We help each other.

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Photo by Tatiana C C Scott

(Nick) Around Christmas time I get very stressed because it is so busy at Fresh Connection.

It reminds me of what I used to go through.

Refrigeration didn’t exist – I’d keep the produce fresh with a bag of ice – and we served everyone at the shop.

This allowed us to pick the very best produce for customers.

However, it became harder to control, and we became one of the last shops to convert to self-serve.

Now, our customers are mainly locals who have been coming for up to 60 years.

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Photo of Nick, Debbie, Margie and Jean (customer since 1960, when she was pregnant with Margie.) Photo by Tatiana C C Scott

Nina was very social, and everybody was a friend.

She would make Greek coffee, chat about their lives, a lot of that.

Our family lived on top of the shop for thirteen years. It was tiny – and our next house felt like a palace – but we were fine. And, even though we had the fruit shop, we loved to grow our own things. The backyard was full of fruit and vegetables, and we’d give them to special customers and friends.

(Debbie) Dad would get home from the market every day to see if anything needed watering, or to measure what had grown. Like a lot of European people, the garden was a hobby and a pride of joy.

(Nick) We were able to escape the shop through friends, dancing, meals, picnics, a Sunday roast and parties every Saturday night. I still meet with those friends every Saturday for a chat.

We made the most of what we had but – now that shops are always open – it’s harder to make time available.

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(Debbie) Dad presented his produce like an artist.

As kids we couldn’t talk to him until 12pm when everything was set up. I remember, as a teenager, everything had to be beautiful.

I was always in the shop growing up: sitting on the step, eating peas, running in and out, getting money from the till to buy lollies at the milk-bar. I knew every customer.

And I love the shop to death now, but it was a bit embarrassing to have dad take us to school in the fruit truck.

I had a bit of an identity problem, as most people did back then.

‘Am I Australian or am I Greek?’

Now l consider myself Australian with amazing Greek heritage.

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Photo by Tatiana C C Scott

(Nick) I never thought this would be a family business.

(Debbie) Dad worked so hard, and my parents didn’t want us to go through what they went through.

My brother Theo didn’t want to pursue a career in medicine and, when Nina passed away and the business needed more support, re-entering the business felt like a normal progression for me.

It has worked out wonderfully for both of us but, if we didn’t return to the business, I think Fresh Connection would have shut down. Dad wasn’t with the new age. He’d throw a tea towel over the EFTPOS machine so he didn’t have to use it.

(Nick) I didn’t expect that the business would be around 60 years later.

We kept writing on the cool room wall – in permanent texta –  ‘retire, 1985,’ then ‘retire, 1995’ and so on.

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Photo by Tatiana C C Scott

(Debbie) There is a big age difference between Theo and I, and we are very different, but we complement each-other.

He’s a bit quieter like dad, and I’m a bit more talkative like my mum. We bring different things to the table and try to respect the space.

I essentially took over Nina’s role; I give people recipes, do the social media and encourage people to come in. My son Philip has digitised the business and Theo’s wife, Abbie, also helped to revitalise Fresh Connection. And, with Theo’s kids, we have a new generation that is growing up around the shop.

I don’t know if people will shop at greengrocers in the future. Shops like us are closing down all the time.

People like the small village communities that Melbourne has but – for them to survive – it requires consumer support.

If you don’t support them, they’ll go.

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Photo of Philip by Tatiana C C Scott

(Debbie) I see the business remaining in the family.

We’ve been in this space across the road from the original shop for about eight years, and we will move back next year.

It will be bigger than where we are now but – because it is quite narrow – it will still have that boutique, personal feel.

It will be significant for us to be where Fresh Connection started.

We’ll be there for as long as we can.

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Photo by Tatiana C C Scott

(Debbie) I still love the work. 

I feel like I am in the zone when I come here.

Everything goes away.

It is like therapy.

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Photo of Philip, Nick, Theo and Debbie by Tatiana C C Scott

Written by Aron Lewin with photos by Tatiana C C Scott. Pictures also provided by Debbie.  

talesofbrickandmortar@gmail.com

22 thoughts on “Fresh Connection (est 1960)

    1. Let’s hope you are here for a long time. Nothing like your fruit and veg. The help and service will is amazing. A wonderful family story and business of community spirit, we need more like you.

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      1. Hi Jennifer,
        I wish l knew which Jennifer you are. Hopefully you will tell me in the shop. Sooo happy that you love our fruit and veg and that you like what we do. We love serving everyone too. Debbie 🍇

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    2. Thank you Philip. I agree with you that Aron and Tatiana from Tales of Bricks and Mortar are amazing. Thanks for all that you do too for Fresh Connection. It really is a third generation family success story, thanks to your amazing IT skills.

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    3. Fresh Connection never lets me down. The quality of their produce is A+ and they have lovely seasonal fruits that you do not get in the supermarket.

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      1. Hi Anne, thanks for taking the time to leave such a lovely review. We really appreciate that you notice the difference between us and the supermarkets. See you soon. Debbie 🙏🍓

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  1. A strong and well told story: of courage, perservance, family and legacy! Congratulations! To the wonderful, Kondelos family who have made and are making their dash in business in an unique fashion by caring about product and forming strong customer relations.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. So proud to read my family’s story here. There’s so many things I didn’t know about my Papou’s (Nick’s) start in the industry. I do remember him throwing the towel over the EFTPOS machine though haha! Thank you for showing an interest in my family and the business that brings us all together.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. I loved the article and certainly relate to it. My immigrant father had a cafe during the prewar and war years in a little North Queensland town called Ayr in the center of the sugar cane industry. My life was different from most other immigrant families in that my dad had made his wealth prior to returning to his Greek village to bring back a bride, my mother.
    My childhood days and those of my brothers were gloriously innocent and carefree. Like most Greek immigrants, education was of paramount concern so we moved to Brisbane to seek secondary and tertiary education there.
    The rest is history. All four of us have university/college degrees, plus my two daughters and in the not too distant future all four of our granddaughters will be heading to you know where? Uni, of course! My brothers and I are eternally grateful to our late, hard-working parents, Periklis and Chrisoula Syrmis. Forever proud of you, mum and baba! Wish you could see what you have sprouted!

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  4. Such a wonderful family story. As a teenager I got off the bus nearby, after school. I always thought I bought fruit in the shop, but now, after your recollections of the early shop days, I think it may have been the Tarax.

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  5. Such an amazing and beautiful story. I will always remember as a young girl, and a friend of Debbie’s, visiting the fruit shop and always being given a crisp red apple, or a bunch of grapes, before hopping on our bikes and riding to our next ‘food stop’ raid, aka, Debbie’s family home. Always so much love, generosity and graciousness amongst the Kondelos family, a long and successful business was a natural progression!

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  6. I have enjoyed reading your family story and learning about Nick and Nina’s early years in Australia. I began shopping at Nick’s delightful fruit shop in the early 70s and always loved its intimacy and the cheerful and helpful service I received, and of course the quality of the fruit and vegetables. Nowadays I enjoy these qualities at Theo’s and admire the artistic fruit and vegetable displays and enjoy Debbie’s favourite recipes. The produce range continues to grow larger and there is always something new to try. Philip’s Fresh Connection website is a marvellous addition and I mustn’t forget Abbie’s part in helping make my weekly fruit and ‘veg shopping a pleasure.

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    1. Dear Judy
      You have been such a loyal customer and your the best at sorting out all your fruit and veggies from hard to soft before they get weighed and bagged. When you broke your leg, we really noticed your absence. Thanks for mentioning us all in your message. Theo must have been a baby when you started shopping with us ! You’re the best. Debbie x

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  7. Hi Nick, Theo and Debbie, Abbie and Philip.
    It gives me so much joy to read this story. As you would know , you have been an essential and valued part of the Renouf Familly’s life Since 1978.
    I adored Nina, and she was my friend. Paul and Nick got on famously, and Nick came to bid Paul farewell.
    I watched Theo and Debbie growing to adulthood, and care for you both so much.
    You will always be my local greengrocer, although I am not around so much these days. I still send all newcomers your way.
    Keep up the good work, we love
    Fresh Connection.
    Susan.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Such a great family story Debbie and Theo. We have shopped at your green grocers for almost 20yrs now and it just never fails on quality! Your produce is second to none. Thankyou for suppling such top quality produce and a fantastic variety of healthy and organic alternatives you can’t find in supermarkets today 👏👏👏

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    1. Hi Sharon
      Thanks for taking the time to comment. We are so glad you enjoyed our story. Wow, I can’t believe it’s 20 years that you’ve been shopping with us. That’s another good reason to celebrate 🎈
      Debbie 🍓

      Like

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